Book Review: The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman

The Life She Was GivenOn a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time–and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

My thoughts:

If I remember correctly in the last few years I have read a total-including this one-three book that include a circus setting. These stories capture my attention for many reasons. Especially when the story takes place during the depression era in the early 20th Century. The Life She Was Given has a uniqueness to the story unlike the others I have read before it. It should be obvious what it is by reading the book description.

Normally, when I read stories this good, I devour it in a couple of days but I decided to savory this one. During the 1930’s and into the 40’s, the circus struggled to stay open due to the depression. Often times they had to make tough choices and this story shows some of that.  Often times they were cruel, heartbreaking and unnecessary decisions. I have to say that ignorance plays a big part in the decisions. Another theme in this story was the “freak Show,” and how these extraordinary people were treated. There are several other themes to this story that moved me and really portrays how cruel life can be. We all have many things to learn from this story and I highly recommend people read this book.

Wiseman’s ardent portrayal of an era, subject and setting, sets the stage for an unforgettable read.

I have rated this book five stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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Cover Crush: Oil and Marble (A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo) by Stephanie Storey

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I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

Oil and Marble A Novel of Leonardo and MichelangeloOil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo by Stephanie Storey

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published March 1st 2016 by Arcade Publishing

Legendary geniuses clash in both art and life in this “tremendously entertaining” novel of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (The New York Times).

For a few years at the very beginning of the sixteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti both lived and worked in Florence. Leonardo was a charming, handsome fifty-year-old at the peak of his career. Michelangelo was a temperamental sculptor in his mid-twenties, desperate to make a name for himself.

Michelangelo is a virtual unknown when he wins the commission to carve what will become one of the most famous sculptures of all time: David. Even though his impoverished family shuns him for being an artist, he is desperate to support them. Living at the foot of his misshapen block of marble, Michelangelo struggles until the stone finally begins to speak. Working against an impossible deadline, he begins his feverish carving.

Meanwhile, Leonardo’s life is falling apart: he loses the hoped-for David commission; he can’t seem to finish any project; he is obsessed with his ungainly flying machine; he almost dies in war; his engineering designs disastrously fail; and he is haunted by a woman he has seen in the market—a merchant’s wife, whom he is finally commissioned to paint. Her name is Lisa, and she becomes his muse.

Leonardo despises Michelangelo for his youth and lack of sophistication. Michelangelo both loathes and worships Leonardo’s genius. Both will become immortal through their art.

Oil and Marble is the story of their nearly forgotten rivalry and “a rewarding read for art aficionados and fans of historical fiction” (Booklist). Here, Stephanie Storey brings early 16th-century Florence alive, bringing to life the minds and souls of two Renaissance masters with extraordinary empathy.

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My thoughts on the cover, title and premise:

I came across this book on Amazon and as an art history lover, I became intrigue with its cover. I recognized the style and hue immediately. How in the world have I not come across this book already, I ask myself? I love everything about the cover, title and premise. I look forward to reading the story to find out if it is as good as it looks.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary. Her latest cover crush HERE

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede-Coming soon

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books-Coming soon

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation-Coming soon

Meghan @ Of Quills & Vellum-Coming soon

Stay calm and support book bloggers

 

Social Stratification in the Arts

by Mitchell James Kaplan

We want to believe in the tired cliché, La Boheme, the noble artist-as-rebel rejecting the vanity of status and the pecking order. This is of course a romantic notion – the artist as conscience, free of society’s hangups, liberated through self-expression. Its roots extend deeper than the romantic period, back to the medieval monastery – the ultimate opt-out for aristocrats who yearned for a more authentic life.

In reality, the society of artists is not different than any other society. Speaking only of literary society, which I know better than the others: there is an upper class of Nobel, Pulitzer, and Man Booker Prize winners. There’s an upper-middle class of best-selling authors. There’s a middle class that, like the middle class in the rest of society, has been dramatically shrinking through the last decades. In the publishing industry, this stratum is called the “mid-list.” And there’s the lower class of self-published authors – “lower-class,” that is, in the eyes of some conventionally published authors.

Authors can occasionally climb up this totem pole, but it isn’t easy. A parvenu has a hard time gaining acceptance in old-money circles. And then there are the nobles déchus, those whose Nobel prizes are growing dusty. They’re no longer earning, but they retain their pedigree. Perhaps the bottle speaks to them more, these days, than the Muse. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter what they write, anyway. No matter what they scribble, the critics will line up in praise. Their place on the totem pole is fixed.

Clearly, there are two status symbols that determine where an author fits in this social system, prizes and money. These markers serve two primary purposes: they determine the pecking order within the society of artists (who gets to express contempt for whom, and who gets to envy whom) and they help steer readers toward “books of quality.”

But what, exactly, is a book of quality? I’ll give you a hint. Study Literature at the college of your choosing. Get a PhD, even. You’ll get to read of lot of great books. But no one will be able to tell you why they’re great. On the day when you receive your degree, you still won’t be able to answer that most basic of questions any better than people who never finished college – or never even started – people like Maya Angelou, Truman Capote, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, and William Shakespeare.

Don’t get me wrong. Within the context of any culture, at a given moment, there may well be something like a consensus. Books that reflect the world-view of the educated class are going to win the prizes. Everyone likes a mirror, after all. At least, everyone who considers herself or himself to be beautiful. And books that express the yearnings and fears of the merchant and professional classes will earn their authors substantial material rewards. But none of this has anything to do with quality. Some of my favorite living authors have been the recipients of major prizes. Some are best-sellers. Some are unknown.

Quality is not measured in dollars or prizes. Quality is measured in the taste buds. You know it when you bite into it. And the good news is, there are still authors who care about quality more than status. But, as in every age, they are few and far between. And you may not find them where you would expect to find them. Sometimes, browsing in a used book store, I’ll pull out a tome that no one has seen in decades, start reading, and think, Wow, I never heard of this author. This is great. Maybe no one else ever heard of that author, either. Maybe no one ever will.

I think of Felix Mendelsohn, and how he revived the reputation of Johann Sebastian Bach. What would have happened to Bach, had Mendelsohn not come along? But then, Bach wrote for God, not for man. Maybe, just maybe, wherever he is – in the ground, in heaven – Bach doesn’t really care.

About Author:

Mitchell Kaplan Streawberry fields

Mitchell James Kaplan, a graduate of Yale University, is the author of the prize-winning novel, “By Fire, By Water.” He is currently putting the final touches on his second novel, “Same Stars, Different Constellations,” which is set in Brittania, Rome, and Judea in the first century.

By Fire, By WaterAbout By Fire, By Water:

Paperback: 284 pages

Published May 18, 2010

Recipient of the Independent Publishers Award for Historical Fiction (Gold Medal), the Foreword Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction (Bronze Medal), and an honorable mention in the category of General Fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award.

Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands.  But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.

Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.

Available on Amazon HERE

 

Wish-List 5: Agatha Christie

Steph Pic retakeYesterday I intended to have second post to post that day and time got away from me and my daughter and I went to a late movie. The film we went to see was Birth of a Dragon and it was suburb! My daughter asked me why they don’t make more film like this. I told her Hollywood used to make in the day. We both agreed that we want to see more films with this quality. Anyhow, I am getting off track here. When we got home I was exhausted and decided to post my wish-list in the morning. It’s a good way to start off the weekend, don’t you think?

August 18th, I posted my review for The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford and it got me thinking I want to learn more about Agatha Christie. She was an extraordinary writer and woman as many know. Her works today this day still influence many writers and readers. Her mystery stories will never fade and she will continue to inspire many new writers. So, began my search on Amazon for books about her life and her journey of writing mystery. I hope you enjoy this list and please be sure to review my review of The Woman on the Orient Express.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Agatha Christie An AutobiographyAgatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie

Hardcover, 532 pages

When Agatha Christie died on 12 January 1976, she was known throughout the world as the Queen of Crime, unrivalled as the best-selling novelist of all time with two billion books sold in more than 100 languages. Though she kept her private life a mystery, for some years Agatha had secretly written her autobiography, and when it was published after her death, millions of her fans agreed – this was her best story!

From early childhood at the end of the 19th century, through two marriages and two World Wars, and her experiences both as a writer and on archaeological expeditions with her second husband, Max Mallowan, this book reveals the true genius of her legendary success with real passion and openness.

The Grand TourThe Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery by Agatha Christie

Paperback: 384 pages

Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Now, in this fascinating travelogue of the prolific author’s yearlong trip around the British Empire in 1922, Christie provides the clues to the origins of the plots and locales of some of her bestselling mystery novels. Containing never-before-published letters and photos from her travels, and filled with intriguing details about the exotic locations she visited, The Grand Tour is an important book for Agatha Christie fans, revealing an unexpected side to the world’s most renowned mystery writer.

Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John CurranAgatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran

Paperback: 496 pages

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks is the fascinating exploration of the contents of Agatha Christie’s long hidden notebooks, including illustrations, analyses, and two previously unpublished Hercule Poirot short stories. Not only will Christie’s legions of ardent fans find a treasure chest of new material from the author of such classics as And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Death on the Nile, but Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks is also a must-read tutorial for writers who want to learn the intricacies of constructing crime novels.

Come, Tell Me How You Live An Archaeological Memoir by Agatha Christie MallowanCome, Tell Me How You Live: An Archaeological Memoir by Agatha Christie Mallowan

Paperback: 205 pages

Over the course of her long, prolific career, Agatha Christie gave the world a wealth of ingenious whodunits and page-turning locked-room mysteries featuring Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and a host of other unforgettable characters. She also gave us Come, Tell Me How You Live, a charming, fascinating, and wonderfully witty nonfiction account of her days on an archaeological dig in Syria with her husband, renowned archeologist Max Mallowan. Something completely different from arguably the best-selling author of all time, Come, Tell Me How You Live is an evocative journey to the fascinating Middle East of the 1930s that is sure to delight Dame Agatha’s millions of fans, as well as aficionados of Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody mysteries and eager armchair travelers everywhere.

Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary MacaskillAgatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill

Paperback: 144 pages

Agatha Christie was the author of over eighty novels and over a dozen plays, including The Mousetrap, the longest continuously running play in theatrical history. Her books have been translated into more languages than the works of Shakespeare.

Agatha Christie’s first home was at Ashfield in Torquay, a house that she retained for nearly half a century, until she sold it in 1938 in order to buy Greenway, her `dream house’ on the River Dart. She spent all her summers there till she died in 1976. It was, she wrote: `the loveliest house in the world.’ Now owned by the National Trust, Greenway was opened to the public in 2009.

Both Devon homes, which featured in several of her novels and stories, were central to Agatha’s life, but she also loved the process of acquiring and planning houses in other places – from Sunningdale to Baghdad: at one time, before the Second World War, she owned eight properties in London. Her enthusiasm for buying, restoring and decorating houses is one of the lesser-known aspects of her life, but one that was very important to her. Agatha Christie at Home – illustrated with photos of her life, her homes and of the Devon she loved – recounts this side of her life, and its author, Hilary Macaskill, writes about some of the houses Agatha Christie lived in, her relationship with the staff who ran them, and her love of domesticity.

Illustrated with rarely-seen archive images and evocative photographs of Greenway and the surrounding countryside, Agatha Christie at Home provides an insight into the life and work of a much-loved author.

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Brief Bio of Agatha from Amazon:

Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and created the detective Hercule Poirot in her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). She achieved wide popularity with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) and produced a total of eighty novels and short-story collections over six decades.

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Be sure to check out my wish-list from last month HERE -Alexander Pushkin to the Romanovs

Here are the wish lists from a few of my friends this month:

Erin @ Flashlight Commentary

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation-Coming soon!

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired

Bittersweet Confessions of A Book Blogger

Steph Pic retakeThis morning on Facebook I came across a video that a celebrity, Ashton Kutcher, shared about a man explaining what his son’s Down Syndrome was and how he responded about it. He felt he failed his son and pulled over on the side of the road to share his meaningful and heartfelt thoughts about it. One of the things he said was that “disabilities” are perception. We all have different things to teach. He is right!

I am going to share with you a small taste of something that is acutely hard for me to talk about and to be honest about for many reasons. When I was a young child in school, I had what the education system called, “A learning disability.” In my speech and how I processed things or lack of I should say. I struggled with comprehension and my speech affected my relationships with other children at school and often times at church. Needless to say, I had a negative experience to say the least. My mother continuously fought for me and tried her best for the schools to help. The school system failed me but once. When we lived in Clearwater Florida, the elementary school I went to had a speech class and I loved it. The only thing that was hard was that the other children in my regular class knew why I was being pulled out of class and I was bullied horribly. I did have a tutor for years that helped me learn reading comprehension and to help me in other subjects and as I still struggled, I never gave up no matter how hard it was for me. Though I did keep much of my deep fascinations for stories, art, life, history, and how things worked inside me because I couldn’t express them outwardly for much of my life-except with my family. I was completely vulnerable and I admit, that creeps up from time to time even today.

In Clearwater at a church my father was on staff, we had a library filled with so many wonderful books. I would sneak in there sometimes when it was empty and pick a Nancy Drew book off the shelf and find a corner to read in. I struggled and often times soon forgot what I read. Even though no one was in the library, I would sheepishly look up to make sure no one saw me in case they asked me what I was reading. Then I started to make up my own stories in my head because that was easier for me. I needed that escape.

There was also a special education ministry that my mother ran at that church and I often went in the class to volunteer. Those were some of the best memories I have at that church. I still think about the people in that ministry and how they made me feel. I wasn’t judged. That was my happy place.

Middle school was a living hell for me and I would come home crying and plead with my mother so much, she pulled me out of school to home school me and that was the best thing for me. Even my “so-called” friends bullied me and called me horrible names and would opening laugh at me right in my face. Imagine being called, “Stupid and worthless everyday of your childhood?” Imagine what that does to a person. I stood there and took it, then afterwards I would shut my-self up anywhere I could and cried and anguished over life. For a while before I told my mother what was going on, I was so embarrassed to say anything, I would tell her everything was fine. I think I even told her I had several boyfriends. The saddest part is that I started to believe those kids. I felt stupid, ugly and worthless. It has taken over half my life to overcome that. The school would even put me in these, “special classes to get extra help” and the classes were really for behavior problem children. It was not to help with “learning disabilities.” I felt degraded even further. High school didn’t get better but that is another story. To this day, there are moments I struggle with speech and articulate my words verbally. I hear it in my mind but it doesn’t come out properly at times.

What is heartbreaking to me is often times I find myself using the words, disability and stupid or even idiot for that matter. Life is so precious and it is unfortunate that so many make lite of it and the cruelty of our actions is destructive in so many ways. Not only to ourselves but to others. Think about all the brilliant minds shut out of society because of their differences. Think about all the missed opportunities we could have had and have from those precious and gifted people society thinks stupid, or different. They don’t fit the mold so society must shun them. That is utterly unacceptable and cruel.

All those years I longed to express my creative ideas and thoughts and I didn’t know how. I was locked away for so long inside me and I only dreamed of one day that I might have the opportunity to shine and overcome. With hard work, determination, family and trust in God, I have overcome much and have the honor and privilege to work in the book industry and converse with some of the most brilliant and caring minds and souls. Who would have even thought possible?

Love life/Understand/Show compassion/Think before speaking and acting/Give meaning to your life. We all can learn from this.

**Please excuse the typos and grammatical errors. This is a first draft and is not meant to be written on a professional level but a personal one. Thank you.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Cover Crush: The Lido Girls by Allie Burns

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I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

The Lido Girls IIThe Lido Girls by Allie Burns

HQ Digital

Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Pub Date 02 Oct 2017

Description

Escape to the inter-war years in this emotional story where opportunity can be found at the pool-side in your local lido… Perfect for fans of Pam Evansand Gill Paul

Change is in the air…

London, 1930s:

Natalie Flacker is tempted by the glamour of the new keep fit movement, but when she is dismissed from her prestigious job in PE she loses the life she so carefully built. Echoes of the war’s destruction still reverberate through her life, and now she is homeless, jobless and without prospects.

But connections made on a summer holiday, with her best friend Delphi, create opportunities. When Natalie is offered a summer job at a lido at the seaside, she jumps at the chance. But is she up to the challenge of taking on a group of unfit women in need of her help?

Set against the backdrop of the beginnings of the pioneering keep fit movement; this is a feel-good reminder of just what’s possible when you find the courage to follow your heart.

Spend a very British summer with The Lido Girls!

My thoughts:

I love reading stories that take place in the early 20th Century and this cover is perfect for the premise.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary. Her latest Cover Crush HERE

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation

Meghan @ Of Quills & Vellum-Coming soon

Bookish Happenings: Fancy These Two Beauties

Me IIThis past weekend I started two new novels and I am loving it! They are both competing for my attention. This is a good omen seeing as I have been on the lookout for the next five-star book. Will I rate both of them five stars or not at all? You’ll have to wait to find out! It won’t be long seeing as I don’t want to stop reading them. Meanwhile, add these two to your reading pile. Oh, heck, add them and bump them up your list. Go on. Just do it. Enjoy!

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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The Life She Was Given(This one is not for review but I’ll review it anyways.)

Paperback, 356 pages

Published July 25th 2017 by Kensington Publishing Corporation

From acclaimed author Ellen Marie Wiseman comes a vivid, daring novel about the devastating power of family secrets–beginning in the poignant, lurid world of a Depression-era traveling circus and coming full circle in the transformative 1950s.

On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time–and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.

About Author:

Ellen Marie Wiseman

A first-generation German American, Ellen Marie Wiseman discovered her love of reading and writing while attending first grade in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in NYS. She is a bestselling author whose novels have been translated into seventeen languages. Her debut novel, THE PLUM TREE, is loosely based on her mother’s stories about growing up in Germany during the chaos of WWII. THE PLUM TREE received much praise for its depiction of WWII and was named by Bookbub as One of Thirteen Books To Read if You Loved ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. Ellen’s second novel, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, was named a Huffington Post Best Books of Summer 2015. Her third novel, COAL RIVER, was called “one of the most “unputdownable” books of 2015″ by The Historical Novel Review. Her fourth novel, THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN, will be released in July 2017. She lives on the shores of Lake Ontario with her husband and two spoiled Shih-tzus, Izzy and Bella. When she’s not busy writing, she loves spending time with her children and grandchildren. Find Ellen on Facebook.

Villa America(This one is for review)

Hardcover, 426 pages

Published August 4th 2015 by Little, Brown and Company (first published April 23rd 2015)

A dazzling novel set in the Cap D’Antibes based on the real-life inspirations for Fitzgerald’s Tender is The Night.

In this gorgeous, glamorous, and affecting novel, Liza Klaussmann does for Sara and Gerald Murphy what Paula McLain and Michael Cunningham did for Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf in The Paris Wife and The Hours. Villa America was in fact a real house on the French Riviera that Sara and Gerald Murphy built to escape to in the 1920’s. Members of a group of expat Americans, they were known for their fabulous parties and for making the Riviera into the glamorous place it is today. Their freewheeling days were filled with champagne and caviar, but these were people who kept secrets and who were, of course, heartbreakingly human.

This is a stunning story about the Lost Generation, about a marriage, about a golden age which could not last.

About Author:

Liza Klaussmann

Liza Klaussmann worked as a journalist for the New York Times for over a decade. She received a BA in Creative Writing from Barnard College, where she was awarded the Howard M. Teichman Prize for Prose. She lived in Paris for ten years and she recently completed with distinction an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, in London, where she lives. She is the great-great-great granddaughter of Herman Melville.

Stay calm and support book bloggers

Book Spotlight: By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

By Fire, By WaterPaperback: 284 pages

Published May 18, 2010

Recipient of the Independent Publishers Award for Historical Fiction (Gold Medal), the Foreword Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction (Bronze Medal), and an honorable mention in the category of General Fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award.

Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands.  But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.

Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.

Available on Amazon HERE

Author Website

Praise for By Fire, By Water

“A heart wrenching tale told with skill…Mitchell James Kaplan has effectively written a powerful story that I will always remember.” —  Marie Burton, The Burton Review

“[Kaplan’s] portrayal of this remarkable man and woman and their struggles to reconcile their past with their future amidst a rising storm of persecution humanizes his tale; and his evocation of a troubled Spain at the crossroads of its own past and future is equally well drawn.” — CW Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

“Recreates a historical moment of vast and far-reaching changes as well as the complex personality of Santángel, the high government official who placed his hopes for redemption far beyond his society’s horizons.” – Reform Judaism Magazine (Fall, 2010)

“Debut novelist Kaplan depicts a turbulent period in 15th-century Spain, focusing on the story of Aragon’s royal chancellor… Deftly moves through a complex web of personal relationships, religious zeal and political fervor.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Kaplan has done remarkable homework on the period and crafted a convincing and complex figure in Santángel in what is a naturally cinematic narrative and a fine debut.” — Publishers Weekly

“[A] brilliant and poetic novel of decent people in a world gone mad…  Author Mitchell James Kaplan writes with breathtaking poetry and compassion… A rich story, a wonderful book, a deeply feeling writer.” – Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille

Book Review: The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

The Woman on the Orient Express IIThe Woman on the Orient Express

by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Published September 20th 2016 by Lake Union Publishing

Hoping to make a clean break from a fractured marriage, Agatha Christie boards the Orient Express in disguise. But unlike her famous detective Hercule Poirot, she can’t neatly unravel the mysteries she encounters on this fateful journey.

Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabinmate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions.

Filled with evocative imagery, suspense, and emotional complexity, The Woman on the Orient Express explores the bonds of sisterhood forged by shared pain and the power of secrets.

My thoughts:

Agatha Christie is an iconic author of writing mystery and her works still influence many writers and readers today. She is famous for her characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. The story she wrote that has left an impression on me is, Murder on the Orient Express. When I came across The Woman on the Orient Express, I was immediately intrigued and knew that I must read this story soon. Alas, the book has been sitting on my shelf for some time calling out my name in dire neglect!

Here is a book blurb of Murder on the Orient Express:

“The murderer is with us – on the train now…”

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

Isolated by the storm and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer amongst a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again…”

Lindsay Jayne Ashford story has Agatha Christie boarding the Orient Express making her way to the middle east. I had no idea that Christie in real life traveled to those places and that really captured my attention even more. I wanted to read what it was like before terrorism exploded in the middle east (Baghdad and Mesopotamia) and being seen through an Engish woman was a nice touch. Christie was an extraordinary woman to say the least and The Woman on the Orient Express shows this.

Her relationships with Katherine Keeling and Nancy Nelson was inspiring to read about. All three of them were unique woman who had secrets about their lives they were afraid to reveal. As they were brought together by the train, they found themselves needing each other more than they would have thought. Another aspect of the story that stuck out to me was the authors description of the middle east and the people that lives there.

This story was beautiful told and the pace of the story was perfect for the era the story takes place in. The author even weaves fiction with fact perfectly and her character development was strong.

I have rated this book four stars and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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Cover Crush: The Winter Loon by Lori Henriksen

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I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

The Winter LoonThe Winter Loon by Lori Henriksen

Published May 16th 2017 by Cougar Creek Books

Amazon Kindle Price $1.99

In the shadow of the Great Depression, long before historical changes leading toward LGBTQ advocacy and equality, unpretentious eighteen-year-old Ruth Thompson defies expectations to marry her sweetheart, Duke. Impulsively deciding to join a rodeo circuit with her cousin in order to earn money for college, Ruth comes of age in the rough and tumble male-dominated culture of rodeo competition.

Ruth returns home to Minnesota a prize-winning competitor and resumes her familiar relationship with Duke. Once at college she grows increasingly restless in her role as a sorority girl with Duke as her escort for all social occasions. Her safe existence is upended when she meets confident and free-spirited Gisela and then further unravels when the two women fall in love.

The lives of Gisela and Duke entwine over the years as Ruth embarks on a journey of self-discovery, struggling with deep-rooted societal dogma fraught with the risk of dangerous repercussions and the possibility of losing everyone and everything dear to her. After the U.S. enters WWII, each faces a test of their own fortitude as all three must come to grips with redemption, forgiveness, the meaning of family and how to honor their authentic truth during this perilous time in history.

Both heart wrenching and uplifting, The Winter Loon honors the strength and spirit of all those who grapple with social persecution because of who they love and how they define family whether it is one’s own flesh and blood kinfolk and/or those nearest and dearest to their heart.

My thoughts:

I love this cover and it drew me in to find out more about this book. The story has a theme that is often times sensitive and a complex issue for many and gives us an historical account of social persecution, forgiveness, honor, truth and so much more. I look forward to finding out more about this book. 

Stephanie M. Hopkins 

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court-Coming soon

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede-Coming soon

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books-Coming soon

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation-Coming soon

Meghan @ Of Quills & Vellum-Coming soon

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